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regional restaurant review

Little Cambodia
135 N. F Street
Salida, CO

by Elliot Jackson

It was a couple of years ago, on a trip to San Francisco, that I became acquainted with Phò. I remember the meeting vividly – I was sitting at a large table in a Vietnamese restaurant, surrounded by the family and friends of my travelling companion. “Order the Phò,” was the command of the cognoscenti in the crowd and, obediently, I did. A large steaming bowl of noodle soup jammed with meat, fish and bean sprouts, all flavored by basil and hot spices came to the table, and I was in love.

It seemed like the beginning of a beautiful relationship, marred only by the realization that once I was back in rural Colorado I was going to miss this new taste treat. Little did I realize that I was going to find it again a couple years later, at the Salida Farmers Market, at a booth run by local chef, Phanny Jones, who had emigrated to Colorado by way of Cambodia. It soon became a priority to make sure I got to the Market before 11 am, because if I got there later, I was sure to miss the bowls of Phò (pronounced “fuh”) – as well as the spring rolls, the egg rolls, even the noodle salad. Everything sold out, vanished down the maws of my fellow shoppers, who all shared my infatuation with Phanny’s food. Why doesn’t this woman open a restaurant, I found myself thinking more than once, as I sadly left the market without my weekly Phò fix.

She has. Little Cambodia, tucked next door to the Victoria Tavern, opened in early April and is already doing brisk business for lunch and dinner five days a week. In addition to the Phò Bo (in small, medium and large) – and the Bun (rice noodle salad, available vegetarian or with a choice of meats), there is a daily special. The day I visited it was a chicken and sweet potato curry with rice – the chicken was succulent, the sweet potato tender, and the spice blend was lovely – flavorful with a noticeable, but not overpowering, amount of heat. And then … the spring rolls. At $3.50 each they might just be the best meal deal in town. Wrapped in a rice paper covering that stretches translucently over its stuffing of rice noodles, lettuce, carrot, choice of beef or shrimp, and mint leaves, with a generous dollop of peanut sauce for dipping, this spring roll is such a beautiful creation it almost cost me a pang to have to finally bite into it.

It’s a great place to take a date, because you can get away with a very filling dinner for two for $20 or less. The restaurant is tiny, seating only about four or five tables in its main space, but is already expanding into the Vic’s back room during busy dining rushes. But don’t worry – if you find you can’t get seated, you can always order take-out.